Storage does not Guarantee Access: The Problem of Organizing and Accessing Words in a Speaker's Lexicon

Volume 12
Issue 3
Michael Zock & Didier Schwab
Natural language production requires both a grammar and a lexicon. In this article, we deal only with the latter, trying to enhance an existing electronic resource to allow for search via navigation in a huge associative network. Our primary focus is on the structure of the lexicon (i.e. its indexing scheme). This issue has often been overlooked, yet it is crucial, as it determines to a large extent the chances of finding the word a language user (speaker/writer) is looking for. While researchers working on natural language generation (NLG) have given a lot of thought to lexicalization (i.e. the mapping of meanings to forms), lexical access has received no attention at all. Lexicalization is generally considered to be only a choice problem, the assumption being that stored data can always be accessed. While this may hold for machines, it does not always hold for people, as is well attested by the “tip-of-the-tongue” problem. A speaker may know a word, yet still be unable to access it. However, even machines may experience access problems. We illustrate this last point via a small experiment, showing how a well-known lexical resource (WordNet) may fail to reveal information (words) it contains. Additionally, in this article we show how a lexicon might be organized or indexed to allow language users to find the words they are looking for quickly and naturally.

Key words: language production, lexical access, word finding, searching, spreading activation, navigation, association-based index